It’s been a long stretch for Arizona women’s basketball since they played Arizona State on Dec. 29. The Wildcats and Sun Devils tipped off at 8 p.m. MST that Thursday. Since then, UA has traveled to the Bay Area to play California and No. 2 Stanford, then returned home to play Oregon State and No. 18 Oregon.
It’s been a tough run in a short amount of time, but the Wildcats emerged with a 4-1 record in conference play. Our full recap of the game can be found here, but head coach Adia Barnes, sophomore guard Madi Conner, and fifth-year point guard Shaina Pellington had a lot more to say after the game.
On Conner’s shooting
Pellington: “It brings a lot. I mean, it spreads the defense. I think that’s something that’s really key for us. It helps players like me who like to penetrate and get to the rim a lot. So, I mean, it’s great having somebody who could shoot that consistently on the floor.”
Barnes: “It’s hard to play good against really good teams. I think especially she had sat for a long time. So, I think what she did was more impressive because she was cold and having to come in and just produce and hit your shots right away. That’s hard to do. It’s hard to come in from the bench and hit a 3. It usually takes time to get into it. I think she did a really good job of staying focused and bringing...energy and scoring to our team when we needed it.”
Barnes: “I think if you look at [Conner] from this year and last year, I think she’s more intentional about things. So, everybody knows she can shoot, but I think it comes from confidence. Just like Shaina. Shaina hits the 3, she’s more confident to take the next or the mid-range jumper. Madi attacks the basket over some bigs has some confidence. So, as a shooter, you’re going to have lanes to the basket. So, I think the fact that she’s doing it, like intentionally to score not to just get fouled. She’s going to try to score. I think that’s a big thing, and that’s gonna help her game because then the next time they can’t just do a full close out and give you a lane, so I think that will help her game a lot.”
On free throw shooting and confidence
Barnes: “It’s hard because someone’s been shooting a free throw a certain way for 19 years, so you just you work on the repetition of it. But we’re not changing free throw techniques in the game. We just shifted a couple things in Shaina, but Shaina is typically used to getting to the line. So, she’s driving she’s shooting most of our free throws. So, when Shaina is making her free throws, typically overall we’re making them...Jade was kind of a fluke, because really good shooters usually don’t struggle from the free throwline. So, then I think it was Shaina, Jade, Cate, everybody. Cate’s not usually 2 for 4. So, I think overall...it’s just the mental part. And thinking about it. We’re working on it every day. I think it’s just stepping up there with confidence. But now you’re gonna see Shaina shoot way better because she’s confident now. And then her 3 was going, so I think when your 3 is going, your shot’s going, you’re more confident at the free throw line. I think 70 percent of basketball’s mental. So, I think those are just psychological things at practice.”
On getting to the line and limiting Oregon’s ability to do so
Barnes: “The strategy is don’t foul so much. [laugh] Some of that I get it. I’m a coach and I was a player. You sometimes get momentum and calls at home and that’s the way it is, because I was really ticked off when I was on the other end of it at Stanford. It was like...28 to two at one time, ended up 34 to nine. That sucks when you’re the opposing team, but I think we were really aggressive. I thought that they took a lot of pull ups. They don’t really get to the rim as much except Endyia [Rogers] in transition. So, we did a good job of not fouling. But I think some of that was we gave wide open layups, and they shot 53 percent. Or it was in traffic. So, I think we did a better job of being more disciplined.
On the Arizona frontcourt and guards going up against bigger players
Barnes: “I think we need Esmery [Martinez] on the court more. She’s one of our best rebounders so she needs to stay out of foul trouble, especially we have two posts. But I thought overall when I’m asking Madi to guard Grace VanSlooten and I’m asking Helena to guard a bigger player, that’s hard. So, I think they did a really good job of not getting in foul trouble when they’re asked to do that. I mean, they’re guards having to guard a really talented freshman post. So, I think we did a good job of being more disciplined.”
Barnes: “You don’t practice ever against 6-8 people. You don’t play against good players like that in practice. I think it’s just a different mentality. It’s harder...but [Cate Reese] stuck with it. She had some big shots down the stretch. It wasn’t her best game, but she didn’t give up. She could have been less aggressive down the stretch [and] she wouldn’t hit some of those, and we need her to score inside. We had two post players.... So, she stuck it out all the way, so I’m proud of her... She played 37 minutes in the second game of a weekend. It’s tough.”
On Pellington’s improvements
Pellington: “I’m just trying to be more patient and not really force things as much. I mean, we’re playing against teams that not necessarily are really big on like pressuring as much. They played to our strengths. If you can’t shoot, they’re not gonna guard you. So, for me, my strengths most teams don’t want to guard me, but today I feel like I was making shots. And I was able to make the right read because now they had to guard me a little bit closer. So, I was able to make the right passes, right reads and yeah, I didn’t have any turnovers, so that’s pretty good.”
Barnes: “The first thing to look at is assists to turnovers as a point guard, how you can set up for teammates. I thought she was a very good floor general today. I thought she pushed the pace when she needed to. I think she was intentional about pushing it early because that was one of our keys to the game. And then she got shooters the ball at the right time. I think it’s important. I think if you looked at Shaina a couple years ago, she would have probably overdribbled, looking for those gaps. But now she’s kicking it faster, she’s kicking it up, and I think that’s growth as a point guard. So, to have six assists in a big one like this and control the game, and also defend full court for the entire game against two really good guards, I think she did a phenomenal job.”
On Conner’s defense and toughness
Barnes: “[T]aking charges. She does that a lot. She’s been really smart about making sure her feet are outside of circle and just getting there, and I think those were huge plays. It really helped us. But she is playing tough. She always plays tough in practice, and I think just applying a different dimension to her game. And just more versatility, which is important for her as her game grows.”
On playing multiple positions this season
Conner: “It’s definitely hard defensively just trying to guard a bigger post player. But I feel offensively, most of the time it’s four out, one in, so I know the plays pretty well. So that way isn’t a big transition. I mean, inbounding the ball is probably the hardest thing on offense. I forget to do that every time. Besides that, I mean, it’s just probably defense.”